Sunday, September 7, 2014

Camino Fifteen – Cornucopia, Chocolates and Cello

Welcome to Paradise calls the young man, inviting me to sample his cornucopia of delights:  homemade ginger biscuits, organic home made bread, every organic fruit jam including guava – guava for goodness sake, on a blue cart in the middle of the Meseta – peanut and almond butters, dried fruits, fresh fruits in great bowls, a melon being cut just as my mouth forms a silent O of astonishment.
Andreas tells me he is from Romania, walked the Camino some years back, wanted to return to give back to the Camino some of the magic he had received.  We agree Bucegi and the Carpathian mountains are magnificent and no, I didn’t see a bear, though there were signs everywhere.  I am talking in order to inject something known into such an unknowable scenario so I can grasp my threadbare sense of reality.  I also eat; that’s real.  Then I offload my pack and sit down.  It’s all too marvellous.  The more I walk this astonishing trail called Camino the more I feel like Alice in Wonderland.  I have an interesting exchange with Kathy, a South African who wears a terrific red sunhat, take a couple of photos as more pilgrims arrive. Andreas encourages everyone by saying Astorga is only 6 kms further on and downhill all the way.   The five tier pedestrian pass over the road is impressive and practical.

The Wonderland of Alice became more surreal as I am welcomed into the huge albergue by the hospitalero; an elderly Japanese from Abergavenny – in Wales!  I’m shown into a room of four; already in there are Mary and Eamon, last met in Villavente.  I vaguely wondered why Eamon’s hair is seven shades lighter, but Mary’s thick chestnut plait was a bulwark against doubt – until she introduced herself as Louise and her husband as Hugh. 
After that I had a one handed cold shower – that’s all there was – which helped the neurons resettle their confusion.  Off to the rose garden adjacent to the albergue then to sit on a wall and eat my picnic before exploring Astorga.
Alas the chocolate factory was closed, the Cathedral was closed, Gaudi’s Bishop’s Palace was closed.  No wonder Quo Vadis outside the albergue door is carrying off his suitcase in high feather!

Astorga defied all my attempts at affections.  To restore my sangfroid I lay on the warm grass in front of the Bishop’s Palace for an hour or so.  Wandering across the square later I met Dane Johansen.  What can I say?  This most personable young man is an inspiration.  He is walking from St Jean Pied de Port to Finisterre carrying his 11 kg cello on his back.  Sometimes he walks 40 kms in a day!  He lobs into an albergue like the rest of us, has cold showers if that’s all that’s on offer, rests a while and then gives an hour’s performance in every church and Cathedral along the Way. That’s a prodigious feat!   Tonight he will give a concert of cello music by the Cathedral.  My Alice in Wonderland moments only need a white rabbit ...
The concert was marvellous, many familiar faces were there, Dane shared that his 30th birthday was the previous night.  What a gifted young man, and how the Spanish all along the route have encouraged advertising his pilgrimage and concerts.  Many many of the audience were local people too.  I’ve seen the posters, but missed him by a day wherever I’ve been.
Tomorrow – will I make it to Rabanal I wonder, it is another high-ish climb of 20 kms, rising to 1150 metres.  When morning comes we are woken by Gregorian chant and I find I am walking out with Dane and Angel and her parents as far as the pretty village of Murias de Rechivaldo; I do not stay for coffee but note the lovely albergue there and carry on.  In my journal I write that it is one of the hardest walks, asphalt all the way; but curiously on my Michelin map I have written clearly: very beautiful road, lovely walk.  I am baffled now, and, search my memory as I might, I am unable to remember one single step past Murias.  Perhaps this was where I slipped down the rabbit hole ...  It is the hottest day, mid 20’s, I water myself as I walk and pause to pour three or four drops on my rose companion of the day which I find, pick, and tuck into my chest strap.  The snow on the mountains seems close.

I reach Rabanal just before the albergue is open and wait with a young Italian who is in severe pain.  Gaucelmo is owned by the English Confraternity of St James and here in this foreign field is the perfect ‘forever England’.  Herb gardens, old walls with roses tumbling over, acres of grass and un-mown circles of wild meadow under the silver birches, the kindly familiarity of queues and the promise of tea at four o’clock

Suzanne the hospitalero welcomes me.  She is, though at that moment I am unaware of this singular synchronicity, the closest friend of Maria McCann, Glastonbury novelist, neighbour.  Could I invent all these connections even if I tried?  No.  They defy logic.  I love being barefoot on soft English grass (did someone bring the seed over?), love the drone of bees in the clover – and learn that tonight Dane is playing in the 12th century church just opposite.  When I walk over to the church later there in front of me is the Frenchman in the wheelchair.  Meeting each of these two men, Dane and Didier, adds an extra dimension to my day.
To be continued ...

No comments:

Post a Comment